Book Review: Guide to the Royal Arch Chapter

The “Guide to the Royal Arch Chapter” was written by John Sheville and James L. Gould and published in 1996.
As a history, the “Guide to the Royal Arch Chapter” is quite thorough. A number of degrees are defined such as Dermott’s degree and Dunkerley’s degree, the Mark Master, the Past Master, and the Most Excellent Master. In pursuing these origins, the authors explain the rifts that arose during the 18th century and the resolution of the union forged in 1813.

Sheville and Gould begin with a history of the Ancient Masonic order, one they trace back to 975 a.d. This order stands firm there should be only three degrees of the mason: the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow-Craft and the Master Mason. The authors quote Ancient masonic writings as limiting the degree of Master to those who are masters of a lodge and including the rituals of the Royal Arch as a completion of that Master’s status.

The “Moderns” are those lodges who trace their origins to the four Grand Lodges in England during the late 1700s. These orders shared the first three degrees, but find the Royal Arch to be more than a completion of the Master degree. Instead, the Royal Arch had its own ritual, attire and respect. Sheville and Gould quote the Moderns as going so far to call one who attained the Royal Arch as “Excellent.” When the lodges reunified at the turn of the 19th century, it was agreed that all lodges have three degrees, including the Royal Arch.

The history of the Grand Lodges of England only tells part of the story. The authors also share the spread to Ireland, Scotland and the Americas. The systems in Ireland and Scotland are wholly different from the English lodges and find their ritual in different sources. The American Rite, being founded during the rift in England, was also split between the Ancients and the Moderns. This rift was mended earlier than its English counterpart, being resolved in 1792. Sheville and Gould point out that there is little agreement as to where and when the Royal Arch was introduced to the Americas.

Once the reader is well versed in the history of the Mason, and the roles introduced during the reunification, the authors go into detail to defined the rituals and rites related to each degree or role. There is a history, a list of officers, a symbolic coloring and a ritual outlined for the Mark Master, Past Master and Most Excellent Master. The Royal Arch, when defined, lacks a symbolic color. However many items related to the rite are explained in detail. The final subject of the book is the Order of High-Priesthood, described only with its officers, reception and closing.

The “Guide to the Royal Arch Chapter” is not only a thorough treatment of the origins of the Masons and its spread through the British Empire, it also is a handbook to rituals, artifacts and organizational structure of 4th degree Masons.